Four years ago, in the city that changed my life, my wife and I stumbled upon a Buddhist center. We met a woman named Toba. She had such a calm presence that when we entered into her aura we instantly became tranquil. Although our encounter was brief, when I reflect back it was the single most impactful moment along my spiritual journey. After that experience I wanted to know, I had to know – how could a human being have such energy? And why was it happening in front of a Buddhist center?
Unknowingly, the societal norms I’d inherited were being tested for validity. Buddhism was not forbidden but it damn sure wasn’t something I knew of, or saw of, which is why I was so perplexed. I thought an experience like this was supposed to happen in a church, or at bible study, or during a baptism. But no. It happened on the side of a street looking at a bulletin board where I saw titles like “skillful compassion” and “lovingkindness” . This type of vocabulary spoke to my heart, it spoke to my soul, but the person in me said this was wrong. This wrestling in my mind went back and forth for several months. To have even the tiniest of inkling into this philosophy/religion I thought would send me to hell. But the values, beliefs, and ideals I had adopted only lead to suffering, unhappiness, and dissatisfaction masked by attainment, achievement, and financial stability. I knew when I moved back to the west coast it was time to do something new. It was time to open my mind and see what happens. A bit apprehensive, but underneath the veil, my soul was ready.
I started to spend more time in nature. My wife started teaching and practicing yoga. A practice that improves concentration and focus which is much needed in a society that values instant gratification. I started learning about Qi Gong. An ancient medicine that incorporates mindful, rhythmical movement in a fast paced rat race world. Slowly, but surely, my nervous system was resetting. This allotted more space in the mind. I started to engage in wholesome activities. When I needed to cry, I cried. When I was feeling a disturbing emotion, I didn’t numb, I voiced it. Little by little I started to do the opposite of what I would normally do. What I started to notice was that the majority of my waking hours was spent in my head. I was either running from something, planning for something, or worried about something. Without slowing down, without meditation, I would’ve never been able to see this.
We have to think. Thinking is a necessary function to keep us alive. Thinking is how we have come up with some of the greatest inventions that make our life easier. Thinking is how we pay the bills. But always thinking means that you’re not present. Reality is now. Reality is here – in the present moment. These practices force you into the present moment. Over time this new habit becomes a comfortable place. Less time on the phone and in front of the TV because real life becomes a lot more interesting. You gain control over the mind that has been programmed to overthink and ruminate. The mind constantly tends to float away to the next activity or the next assignment or the next task or the next…whatever the hell it is. With these practices you’re able to coral the floating mind back in. You’re less likely to hurry and panic. You feel less stressed. You make better decisions because you’re able to gather yourself. You realize that these changes have nothing to do with Buddhism or Hinduism or Jainism, or Christianity. Meditation – the art of being still is not exclusive to any one religion. Every holy book that you pick up mentions meditation, being still, repeating verses, repeating mantras, praying. All in an effort to focus your attention and fix your mind. You can have both. You can do both. When you direct your mind and practice with consistency and devotion, you – will – change. This is why today I appreciate all religions. The attempt is to get you to that stillness. That place outside of your head. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when. Naturally you come in contact with the truth of reality and that is that we are transcendent spirits. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
I can be physically present and simultaneously in my head and not even notice. It’s hard to tame a mind that’s always run the show. We’re human. I’m human. I still take my mind away from reality through pleasure portals unmentioned. I’ve realized that those pleasure portals are unreliable though. Meditation is sustainable. It’s the only way. Extend yourself grace and compassion for even trying to meditate. It’s a challenge but the challenge bears ripe fruit; peace.
When I met Toba, I wanted to know so bad what she had. I wanted to know how she got that. What did she do? And then it hit me, she wasn’t doing anything. She was operating as we all intend to operate. We’re human beings, not human doings.